Making sense of the Trump phenomenon

It is a mixture of pragmatism, plain speaking and confidence in the age-old American ‘deal making’

Published: 17th May 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th May 2016 03:12 AM   |  A+A-

making sense

The much-derided Donald Trump is now the Republican Party nominee and may well become the President of USA. This has upset both Republican and Democratic ruling elites — those who dominate political party machines, Congress, Wall Street banks and financial firms, Big Business, universities, media organisations, churches, and think-tanks. That he is self-funding is galling.

Yet, his “‘Make America Great Again” slogan has resonated with the 11 million Republican, Democratic and Independent, primary voters. Why did a rank outsider, non-politician, media personality and $10-billion worth man like Trump gain such support?

First and foremost, jobs. Since 2000, the US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs of which 2.4 million were lost to competition from China from 1999 to 2011. The rest were lost to Mexico, Vietnam etc. The loss of manufacturing jobs was disastrous for the working class. As a class, they have had to cut expenditure, liquidated assets and lost 16 million homes for non-payment of interest/repayment. More than 32 million people had to move into their parents’ homes or in and out of friends’ homes. 45 million depend on food stamps. Tens of millions of Americans are faced with a massive loss of self-respect together with the feeling that their ruling elites of both parties do not care about them. There is loss of national self-respect along with individual self-respect.

Between 2004 and 2014, the notorious H1B visa racket saw an average of 1,35,000 visas per year — valid for three years plus another three. There are 11-12 million illegal migrants mainly from Mexico. All this meant fewer jobs for locals and downward pressure on wages as US firms sought the cheapest labour — anywhere and anyhow.  So what is Trump’s solution?

First, build a wall on the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration. “If you don’t have a (secure) border, you don’t have a (secure) country” is his refrain   something shared by other countries.  Then he would enforce the law and deport the illegals. He would tighten H1B visas — though he used that route to import cheap labour (“good for me — bad for the country”).

Next, the trade deficit with China of US$ 365 billion in 2015 means American money is flowing to China — and, as he says, is funding their infrastructure. So not only does America lose jobs, it also funds these losses!  He would renegotiate trade agreements such as NAFTA or get out of them. He would push a “fair trade” agenda on China and Mexico and US businesses and if they don’t respond, put a 35% tariff on all imports from these countries.

This jobs-trade-visas linked agenda is the most critical element in Trump’s popularity with the American voters. None of the other candidates promised anything like this. Second, he would protect current retirement pensions and abolish taxes altogether for the low paid 73 million households.

He would ensure everyone has health insurance at affordable premiums but those who can’t afford them won’t be allowed to “die in the street”. Third, he would ensure that Veterans (retired armed force members) are properly taken care of (“illegal immigrants are treated better”) particularly the wounded Veterans (“21 suicides a day”). He would eliminate corruption and waste in the Government especially in defence procurement, social security, Veterans’ Administration and health care and ensure the armed forces are back to being the best and most efficient in the world so that “no one will mess with us”.

Fourth, Americans don’t understand why Muslims everywhere hate them. Till such time as this hatred exists or they understand why, he will ban all Muslims from entering the US. The US won’t be the ‘policeman of the world; it will look after its national interests only. He would not try to change Muslim regimes which cost US $ 4 trillion (adding up to US $ 19 billion national debt) and losing American lives and limbs. The exception is ISIS —  “I would bomb the SHIT out of ‘em!” He has extended full support to Israel and will reverse Obama’s lukewarm policy towards it. He would not allow Iran to go nuclear.

Fifth, he would make all US allies — NATO, South Korea, Japan, Gulf monarchies — pay US for protecting them — failing which the US will withdraw and these rich countries can take care of themselves; even go nuclear for all he cares !

Sixth, he says he will deal with Russia, China and the Gulf States and come out with fair solutions —otherwise they can go their own way! Seventh, Trump believes in the integrity of the nation-state and will avoid all multinational agreements which limit US sovereignty. He thinks the UN is corrupt, useless and anti-American.

Overall, he thinks the US political system is undemocratic and rigged. He has been able to articulate the people’s interest only because he is self-funding and not dependent on the Republican Party Establishment. He wants to clean up the party system and bring a new set of professionals and businessmen into his government.

This is Trump’s agenda — America First. It is a mixture of pragmatism, fairness, “ordinary common sense”, robust frankness, plain speaking and his confidence in the age-old American “deal making”. Republicans currently hold 68 of 99 State Legislative Chambers, 32 State Governorships, have 54 out of 100 Senators and control the House by more than 50 seats.  President Trump can nominate three Supreme Court judges and this will consolidate his administration and implement his agenda for the next eight years. A Donald Trump revolution of sorts!

What it means for India will have to be examined critically; but it cannot be too bad.

gautam pingle is former Dean of Research and Consultancy,  Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.E mail:


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